The European Union on Tuesday reinforced its peacekeeping operation in Kinshasa as gun battles raged in the Congo capital for a third consecutive day.
The fighting is part of a growing political and security crisis in the wake of presidential poll results at the weekend. Troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila and rebel-turned-vice-president Jean Pierre Bemba battled each other in the city centre as top UN officials and diplomats struggled to mediate an end to the crisis.
The EU rapid reaction force for Congo brought in 200 soldiers from Gabon to bolster the already 1,000-strong contingent. There are also more than 17,000 United Nations troops on the ground.
Fighting started on Sunday evening hours before results were announced for the July 31 presidential polls, which saw Mr Kabila win about 45 per cent of the vote and Mr Bemba about 20 per cent. A second round run-off is scheduled for October.
Diplomats have been taken aback by the sudden outbreak in hostilities. Before the results, UN officials and diplomats privately felt a second round run-off was the best chance of maintaining stability. They had feared a first round victory for Mr Kabila would spark mass demonstrations in Kinshasa and some other parts of the country.
Other presidential candidates, including Mr Bemba, had already called the electoral process into question amid accusations of fraud.
The fighting, which on Monday saw diplomats in Kinshasa pinned down in an attack by presidential guardsmen as they met Mr Bemba, has shaken confidence in whether the run-off can take place peacefully.
The elections, Congo’s first in over 40 years, have cost donor countries almost $500m (€390m, £267m) to date.
The UN peacekeepers are largely deployed in the east of the country. But the run-off between Mr Kabila and Mr Bemba may exacerbate tensions between the east and west of the country.
Security sources said some of Mr Kabila’s presidential guard involved in the fighting had refused to obey the president’s direct command.